About the Pardessus de Viole


What do the different pardessus de violes look like? What is a pardessus de viole?
Where was the pardessus de viole played? Who played the pardessus de viole?
What kind of music is there for the pardessus de viole? What does a pardessus de viole sound like?
Where can I find out more about the pardessus de viole?
What do the different pardessus de violes look like?

There are four main types of pardessus de viole.
  • The six-stringed pardessus de viole:
    Bertrand Pardessus by Marco Ternovec
  • The five-stringed pardessus de viole:
    Guersan Pardessus by Marco TernovecGuersan Pardessus by Marco TernovecGuersan Pardessus by Marco TernovecGuersan Pardessus by Marco Ternovec
  • The quinton is a variation of the five-stringed pardessus de viole that has a body similar to that of a violin.
  • There are no surviving examples of the four-stringed pardessus. It was most likely a violin with a slightly modified neck.

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What is a pardessus de viole?

The pardessus de viole is the smallest size of viola da gamba. It was invented around 1690 possibly as the brainchild of the famous gambist Marin Marais and the luthier Michel Colichon. It started out as an instrument with six strings and then was modified over its 100-year lifetime to have five and then four strings.

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Where was the pardessus de viole played?

Current research has shown that the pardessus was used almost entirely in France and Francophile areas (Belgium, Canada and certain courts in Germany, Italy and Sweden where French music was cultivated).

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Who played the pardessus de viole?

The pardessus de viole's largest audience was middle and upper class women who were not permitted to play the violin (or many other instruments) due to cultural taboos of the time. This is not to say that men never played the instrument. Almost all the teachers and composers for the instrument were men. We have evidence that Marin and Roland Marais played and in the latter's case taught the instrument.

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What kind of music is there for the pardessus de viole?

There were over 250 books of music published for the pardessus de viole. Over half of them still exist and are in various collections in European and American libraries, the largest collections being the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris and the British Library. While some of these pieces are very simplistic there are also very advanced music such as the duos by Barthélèmy de Caix and the solos by Villeneuve.

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What does a pardessus de viole sound like?

  • Click here to hear a chaconne by Jacques Morel for pardessus de viole, viola da gamba and continuo. The pardessus de viole is an original instrument from 1754 by Guersan.
  • Click here to hear an adagio from a trio sonata by Charles Dollé.
  • Click here to hear a movement from a solo sonata by Jean Barrière.

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Where can I find out more about the pardessus de viole?

You can find out more information about the pardessus de viole in the following articles:

  • Sutcliffe, Richard. “Re-Examining the Pardessus de Viole and Its Literature, Part I,” The Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, 2000

  • Sutcliffe, Richard. “Re-Examining the Pardessus de Viole and Its Literature, Part II,” The Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, 2001


You can also find practical information on playing the pardessus on the Tips for Playing the Pardessus de Viole page.


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